The report, released June 12, said there was a “verified case” in July last year where two young boys were “forced” by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to serve as guides to locate a communist rebel camp in North Cotabato province in Mindanao.
“[We] remained concerned over the use of children by the national armed forces as guides and informants during military operations,” the report, titled “Grave Violations Committed Against Children in 22 Situations of Concern,” said.
“In a verified case in July 2012, the Fifty-Seventh Infantry Battalion forced two boys aged 12 and 13 years to serve as guides to locate an NPA camp in North Cotabato Province,” it added.
Against AFP policy
Reached for comment, AFP spokesperson Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the military leadership will have the reported use of children as guides in operatioins verified as such is against their policy.
“As a matter of policy, the AFP does not use children as guides during military operations so as not to endanger them,” he said Monday. “We will verify this information if there is any truth to it.”
Moon, in the report, noted that the AFP has “issued directives prohibiting such use of children, assigning responsibility to commanders, institutionalizing investigations and putting in place corrective measures.”
The two guides were among the 26 children—23 boys and three girls between 12 and 17 years—who were recruited by Philippine armed groups last year, the UN report said.
The number included two who were reportedly recruited and used by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), 11 by the New People’s Army (NPA), and 11 by the Abu Sayyaf bandit group. They were recruited in 11 separate incidents.
Schools for military use
The UN also questioned the AFP for its alleged use of schools, saying while stationing military units in schools does not directly mean recruitment, the UN pointed out that canceled classes for children have an averse effect on their continued education.
“In four verified incidents, the national armed forces stationed military units in public elementary schools in Mindanao. In June 2012, the country task force verified that three units of the national armed forces had established a detachment next to Salipongan Primary School in Tugaya municipality, Lanao del Sur Province, resulting in the closure of the school for two weeks,” the report said.
Moon said this has been brought to the AFP’s attention and that the military is “preparing draft guidelines on the conduct of operations inside or within the immediate premises of schools and hospitals, which are expected to be launched as an operational directive during the first half of 2013.”
Zagala, for his part, said, “We respect the use of these scools as instruments of learning and these should not be used by any miltiary units for any purpose.”
2012 figure lower
While the number remains considerably high, child soldier recruitment has seen a decrease from the previous year, Moon noted in the report.
“That figure represents a decrease in 2012, given that there were 54 incidents affecting 33 boys and 21 girls in 2011,” he said.
But Moon said the actual number of children soldiers in the country may in fact be higher, owing to the reality that the UN has no access to other armed groups, including the MILF splinter group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
“Although the United Nations has no access to the areas under the control of the BIFF, a breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front led by Commander ‘Kato’, the country task force continued to receive credible reports that the armed group was actively training and providing weapons to children,” the report said.
Govt actions lauded
Nevertheless, Moon lauded several efforts by the Philippines to curb the recruitment of children in the country.
“I am pleased to note that the Government is finalizing the implementation of the monitoring, reporting and response system to prevent and respond to specific incidents of grave violations against children,” Moon said.
“The Abu Sayyaf, NPA and MILF continue to be cited in the UN blacklist of parties that recruit or use children, kill or maim children, commit rape and other forms of sexual violence against children, or engage in attacks on schools or hospitals in situations of armed conflict,” it added. — Patricia Denise Chiu/KBK, GMA News